By Michael Jansen
Israel’s easing of the siege and blockade of Gaza is largely cosmetic and self-serving. Israel has opened the gates to all food and clothing items but only 150 lorry loads enter Gaza when the crossings are open. Consequently, the volume of goods entering Gaza has only increased from 17 per cent of the amount before Israel began to impose its blockade in 2006 to 25 per cent at the present.
Furthermore, Israel is not permitting Gaza to import the materials the strip’s 1.5 million Palestinians need most: cement, concrete, iron bars and building materials to reconstruct the houses, ministries, industries and infrastructure Israel destroyed in its 2008-09 war.
The UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides for Gaza’s 1 million refugees, complains that only a fraction of the building materials required urgently by the agency has been allowed into the strip.
Israel is also refusing to allow Gazans to import raw materials and machinery so that industrialists and businessmen can rebuild the economy, destroyed by Israeli restrictions and bombs. Only about 30 per cent of Gaza’s 4,000 factories and workshops are operational, many at reduced capacity and relying on supplies from smuggling tunnels stretching under the border with Egypt. Only a few hundred factories can be expected to restart work due to the easing of the blockade even though the European Union is set?to provide 22 million euros in start-up funds to around 900 businesses.
Until the economy is revived, unemployment will continue to hover around the 40 per cent mark. Of course, joblessness is far higher than 40 per cent, because a person is counted as unemployed only if he or she is still looking for a job. Thousands of Gaza’s former earners have given up hope and resigned themselves and their families to life on the dole.
It is ironic that Israel is making money by easing its blockade without actually helping the people of Gaza. Most of the articles allowed into the strip are Israeli manufactured or produced. Israeli industrialists, farmers and traders benefit. The Israeli state collects tariffs and transit dues. But trade will not really prosper unless Israel permits Gaza to revive its economy.
Gazans do not have the money to buy most of the high-priced products Israel is allowing in, such as milk powder for coffee and various kinds of breakfast cereals which Palestinians do not normally consume in any case. Hamas, which rules Gaza, should prohibit the import of such goods and insist that only goods actually needed by Gazans be allowed into the strip.
So far, the “easing” of blockade has, therefore, been an all-too-obvious fraud perpetrated by Israel with the objective of reducing international pressure to lift the blockade altogether. So far, few members of the international community have gone along with this charade. Even US President Barack Obama has said weakly that the blockade should be lifted, and not simply eased.
The pressure will not cease. The call for a lifting of the blockade by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, during her latest visit to Gaza, reveals that the West is weary of Israeli intransigence. The success in Europe of the campaign to boycott Israeli goods, firms and academic institutions, and to withdraw investments from Israeli companies is gathering strength.
The right-wing Israeli parliament is so worried about divestment and boycott that it is contemplating legislation to outlaw boycotts and divestment and penalise Israelis and non-Israelis who engage in these activities, including by forcing them to pay compensation to those targeted.
The European demand for an end to the blockade was recently echoed by the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations meeting at summit level in Vietnam. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad provided funding for three of the ships involved in the May flotilla that included the Turkish cruise ship where nine activists were killed when attacked by Israeli commandos.
Although the organisers of a Libyan ship, loaded with supplies for Gaza, agreed to off-load in Egypt’s El Arish port and to allow the goods to be transported to Gaza overland, there will be other ships, flotillas even, dedicated to the busting of Israel’s blockade. The Free Gaza movement that broke through in 2008 is planning a new voyage for September.
Canadian activists have begun raising funds to buy a boat to not only break through Israel’s navy but to enable Gazans to export their produce and manufactured goods to the rest of the world. The group, called Gaza Freedom March, is determined to open a sea route to the coastal enclave.